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BUMP STOPS: The Chase, The Contenders, And ACT News And Notes

Sunday, November 20, 2011
Photo: Getty Images/NASCAR

It's the weekend again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock and take it out of the garage for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

SO, HERE WE are on the final day of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, and one has to think that this is exactly what the powers-that-be had in mind when the dreamt up the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Three points. Two drivers. One race.

As remarkable as Jimmie Johnson's run of five consecutive championships was – and it truly was something to behold, both for performance behind the wheel and inside the heads of the rest of the competitors – there's not been a Chase as dramatic as this.

On Friday, the pundits mused that Tony Stewart seemed completely relaxed, while leader Carl Edwards was slightly more uptight. I thought the quips and barbs of the championship press conference this week felt a little too staged and contrived, but there's little doubt that the emotions of the two title contenders were on display.

 

How could Stewart not be relaxed? He's won two championships already in what will be a Hall of Fame-worthy career, and as recently as two months ago Stewart said his team was nowhere near being in title contention. Stewart has absolutely nothing to lose today in Homestead.

Edwards, on the other hand, is on the cusp of his first title. Often, drivers are measured both within and without the garage by the number of championships they win. And having one so close has to wear on a road-weary brain. Edwards is smart enough to know that chances like this don't come around all that often – maybe only once in an entire career – and you've got to capitalize when you can.

Mark Martin is proof of that.

I'm not one for predictions, but I'm going to go with Edwards to emerge with the big trophy at Homestead. Maybe both of the trophies – he does, after all, boast the best career average finish at Homestead and won this race a year ago.

ACT LATE MODEL Tour driver Austin Theriault, who finished second in the ACT All-Star Challenge at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in August, made his debut with Brad Keselowski Racing at Gresham Motorsports Park last weekend.

Theriault, making his first Super Late Model start since 2010, qualified 19th for the World Crown 300 on the quick half-mile oval in Jefferson, Ga., and was taken out in a wreck on Lap 15 of the main event.

Still, the BKR folks were impressed with Theriault, who finished third in the overall ACT standings in 2011. Gary Crooks, BKR development series crew chief, reported that the team was incredibly pleased – and a little surprised – at how comfortable Theriault was and how well he handled the situation of hopping into an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar track.

NASCAR HAS TRIED hard to make race wins more important, but they've done so without sacrificing consistency as a much-needed tool for winning titles.

Is there a better example than this year's Chase?

Stewart was nowhere to be found for most of the season, but he's won four of the nine Chase races to this point to close in on Edwards. Edwards, meanwhile, hasn't won a single event in the Chase – and hasn't won a race anywhere since early spring – but still sits atop the standings.

It's a very interesting dichotomy at work. One driver who has won virtually everything over the last couple of months and another driver who has just posted Top-10 after Top-10 without taking unnecessary risks.

If you're an old-school NASCAR fan, you're probably torn. While Edwards represents the "old" points system with his consistency, Stewart represents the sport's roots in running down wins while letting the points take care of themselves.

It's been something to watch.

BRIAN VICKERS IS driving these last few weeks like a guy who knows he doesn't have anything to lose.

Which, coincidentally, he doesn't. He already lost his ride when Red Bull Racing announced it was closing up shop after this season.

TIP OF THE cap this week to Austin Dillon, the Richard Childress Racing driver, who finished 10th on Friday night at Homestead to win his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.

Dillon finished second in the 2008 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings.

Dillon does have ties to racing in New England. He made his K&N Pro Series debut in a car owned by four-time series champion and Maine native Andy Santerre.

I DON'T CARE what you say. Gran Turismo 5 on PlayStation3 is as good a driving game as there is.

It's not quite iRacing, which is a complete simulation system, but it's the best there is on the true video game market.

THERE WILL NOT be a return engagement of the ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., this February, according to a report on the Vermont Motorsports Magazine website this week.

ACT president Tom Curley said that the cost for both the series and its teams wasn't conducive to a return trip.

It was a big winter investment for teams last year, despite the fact that the races produced very close finishes. Joey Polewarczyk Jr. and Brian Hoar won the two 100-lap races held during New Smyrna's annual Florida Speedweeks' World Series of Asphalt Racing.

So, now that there's no racing in February this winter, what are we all going to do?

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the trash can turkey with stuffing and gravy, and don't forget to tip your waitress. The Foo Fighters are here, so stick around.

– TB